Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

ABA Hits Back Against Cooley Law School In Accreditation Lawsuit

Thomas Cooley Logo (2017)Following up on my previous posts (links below):, ABA Hits Back Against Cooley Law School in Accreditation Suit:

The American Bar Association is pulling no punches in its fight over Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s tenuous accreditation status.

The ABA’s newly filed motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by the Michigan-based law school highlights a series of problems at the school, from falling Law School Admission Test scores among the students it enrolls to plummeting bar pass rates among its graduates.

“The record amply demonstrates that Cooley has done just that, admitting many students who do not appear capable of graduating and being admitted to the bar, implicating the [ABA standards’] purpose to protect students from investing in an education that does not deliver,” reads the motion, filed Jan. 8. ...

Cooley General Counsel James Robb said in an email Tuesday that the school will respond to the motion for summary judgment and that the ABA’s admission standard is unlawfully vague. The ABA does not define which students “appear capable” of graduating and passing the bar, Robb said, and added that the school’s most recent full accreditation review found it to be in compliance with the rule.

“This leaves the law school to guess what it must do to comply with [the admissions standard],” Robb said. “The ABA’s approach is akin to ticketing the driver of a car for speeding when no speed limit is posted.” ...

The ABA’s motion for summary judgment recounts some of the factors that prompted its conclusion that Cooley was out of compliance with rules meant to ensure that law schools admit students who are likely to succeed on campus and pass the bar exam. Among them:

  • Cooley’s first-time bar pass rate dropped from 76 percent to 48 percent over a seven-year period and hovered between 15 and 22 percent below the state average from 2012 to 2015.
  • Many of the school’s students with low LSAT scores and grade-point averages were not even sitting for the bar.
  • The percentage of students coming to Cooley with LSAT scores of 143 or lower more than doubled over six years, accounting for more than half of the class.

The ABA has requested more data from the law school by Feb. 1. If that information does not establish that the school is in compliance with admissions rules, administrators must appear before the accreditation committee later this year and the school may be formally sanctioned. ...

The ABA’s intense scrutiny comes at an inopportune time for Cooley. The school, which operates three campuses in Michigan and one in Florida, hopes to open a fifth location in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Western Michigan University is located. Cooley is a private, for-profit school, but it affiliated with the public university in 2014 and changed its name from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

But the ABA has halted opening the new branch campus until it is satisfied that the law school is operating within its standards.

Update:  ABA Journal, Facts in Cooley Law School Decision Weren't Challenged, ABA Argues in Summary Judgment Motion

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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One waits with great anticipation for "Descriptor" to show up and say that Cooley should be allowed to admit anyone, maybe even everyone, because some guy wrote a study several years ago with data that is now a decade old, and therefore we should ignore accreditation standards because reasons.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 10, 2018 7:31:53 AM

The original complaint lists Michael P. Coakley and Conor T. Fitzpatrick as the attorneys for the plaintiff, Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The partner on the case, Coakley, went to Michigan School of Law. The associate, Fitzpatrick, went to Detroit Mercy School of Law. Cooley probably wanted to hire one of their own grads to represent them in this litigation. After all, Cooley boasted they were the #2 law school in the nation a few years ago. But all of the Cooley grads must have been busy representing other clients.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Jan 10, 2018 8:50:33 AM